Interview: Martin Wippermann

REHAU Martin Wippermann - head of engineering

Mr Wippermann, what’s your fascination with continually reinventing mobility?

Name Martin Wippermann
Age 42
Lives Bayreuth
Training Mechanical engineer

At REHAU since September 2006
Position Head of Engineering Air/Water/Sealing

Mobility" has become a global buzzword: in communication, in traffic and in knowledge transfer, to name just a few. What does mobility mean to you?
In my view, mobility is a socio-economic concern. It brings to mind sprawling megacities with millions of residents like São Paulo, for instance. The people there don’t go to the theatre anymore, because it would take them 3 hours to get there. Time and safety, but also culture itself are socially relevent factors affected by mobility. In Europe people are so used to taking off in their cars, but in Asia other acceptable means of transportation, like e-bikes, are central to the cultural lifestyle. Around the world, people’s concepts of mobility vary with alternative social expectations of mobility as well.

You’ve been quite involved with the theme of "Future Mobility" at REHAU. As a mechanical engineer, what it is that fascinates you?
Essentially it’s the question of how we’ll get around in the future. As an automotive component supplier, we deal daily with product developments in this field. We ourselves plan three to five years in advance, but the concept of "Future Mobility" is actually one that requires looking even further ahead. There we project a good 10 years forward and ask ourselves how the needs of the people of the world will look then. For REHAU, the debate surrounding the issues is important in order to be able to develop ideas to provide the appropriate products and services.

REHAU Expert Martin Wippermann - future mobility

How was the "Future Mobilty" team composed so that internationality and diverse perspectives would be properly represented?

The team collaborators all came from diverse cultural backgrounds. Young people from our own advance engineering and marketing were invited to join. The core team however engaged a broad base of global employees in discussion forums and workshops on the theme of future mobility to ensure the broadest possible scope of perspectives. In addition, we depended heavily on external consultants: the dialogues and exchanges with futurologists, socio-economists and technology experts is what took us furthest – not because we couldn’t manage it with a purely technical approach, but because we needed different perspectives to really explore all facets of the theoretical debate.

Is it a problem, to carry theory over into practice?

No, more of a process. If you talk with future trend forecasters or even in private circles with people about the future and mobility, conversations spiral quickly into fantasy. That’s perfectly fine, but how do we turn fantasy into reality? That’s why it’s important to be able to show positive, practical examples.

You’re referring perhaps to the REHAU employees’ newly implemented pedal-electric bike park at Rehau headquarters?

Yes, for example. We’ve been laughed at in our professional circles for promoting the theory that mobility for people going for short stretches will increasingly move away from four to three and two-wheel locomotion, but the fact is, since we implemented the pedal-electric bike park, due to the number of users – there’s no turning back! This confirms that what we develop on paper has to be experienced, and made real.

What do you recommend for improving the existing system?

What’s proved worthwhile and, in my opinion, really is the model of the future, are intermodal concepts, combined individual and public passenger transportation strategies like park-and-ride, park-and-rail or even bike-and-ride. Meanwhile, there are already bicycle lending stations at many train stations and there are apps for Smart phones designed for trip-planning that recommend and promote a variety of alternative transportation methods. The question of the future of mobility is actually way ahead of the conventional, existing products.

Does that mean in 20 years there’ll be no more cars?

For sure, in the next 15 years there will be significant changes. Indeed, we’ll still be driving using gas and diesel fuels, and whole new engine systems will appear, even for long distance travel. The car itself will become less of a status symbol though. The up-and-coming generation won’t want to drive big, elegant cars from point a to point b, but will prefer instead the quickest, most cost and energy-efficient transportation.

But what does that mean for car industry sub-suppliers like REHAU?

We do have great products with which we're really successful, but to be able to stay on top, we have to go forward generating new permanent solutions. We’re already going the way of the up-and-coming new drive systems, as with our light-weight constructions, new materials, new technologies or the extremely robust battery housings and hydrogen tanks. We also go out and pioneer, as with this project "Future Mobility" for instance, taking an active role in helping define mobility of the future.

You’ve suggested, that the borders between fantasy and reality are quite close. Just to be provoking, do you perceive yourself as one of the creative crackpots?

No, absolutely not. I’m committed to the practicalities of the manufacturing business. Nonetheless, I do strongly believe that it’s important to blaze trails for good ideas. It’s part of my responsibility to see what’s out there among the creative thinkers and identify what realistic projects could come from them. Because frankly, what we want is to do business – today and in the future.

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